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How many movie spoofs can you name which poke fun at World War II espionage dramas AND rock 'n' roll musicals? There's only one and it's also notable as Val Kilmer's screen debut - Top Secret! (1984). The follow-up film to Airplane! (1980), their enormously successful parody of disaster flicks, Top Secret! was the third collaboration between Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and his brother Jerry and employs the same anything goes style of that previous hit and their first film, The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). In other words, outrageous sight gags, terrible puns, anachronisms, broad slapstick, politically incorrect humor and silly pop culture parodies. As a result, the convoluted storyline which has rock star Nick Rivers (Kilmer) going behind enemy lines in West Germany to rescue an imprisoned scientist (Michael Gough), merely serves as the framework for serving up a running stream of blackout sketches periodically interrupted by rock 'n' roll numbers. Among the musical highlights are the opening credit sequence (a Beach Boys parody entitled "Skeet Surfing"), goofy original compositions like "Spend This Night With Me," and Kilmer performing cover versions of "Tutti Frutti" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
According to an interview with Janet Maslin for The New York Times, Kilmer auditioned for the lead role by showing up in an Elvis Presley outfit with a James Dean hairdo. Despite the fact that he wasn't a singer, dancer or musician and had only appeared previously in stage productions, he won the part and immediately threw himself into the spirit of things by watching Elvis movies and studying concert footage of fifties rock icons like Gene Vincent. As for Kilmer's on-set impressions of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker working relationship, he said it resembled "the Marx Brothers directing traffic." Jerry Zucker would serve as cameraman while Jim Abrahams and David Zucker would screen the action on a remote video screen. Kilmer recalled that "after each take, Jerry would say: 'Wonderful. Perfect. Wait a minute.' Then he'd go check with the others."
Yet out of indecision and chaos can emerge something unique and exhilarating. While Top Secret! didn't enjoy the commercial success of Airplane!, there are those who find its schizophrenic tone and scattershot approach irresistible. Depending on your sense of humor, you may find it screamingly funny or stare at it without cracking a smile. Among the renowned critics who succumbed to its sense of the absurd was Roger Ebert who probably said it best when he wrote, "This movie will cheerfully go for a laugh wherever one is even remotely likely to be found. It has political jokes and boob jokes, dog poop jokes, and ballet jokes...It contains a political refugee who fled America by balloon during the Carter administration, a member of the French underground named Escargot, and Omar Sharif inside a compacted automobile...The dance sequence in the East Berlin nightclub develops into something Groucho Marx would have been proud of. The malt shop musical number demolishes a whole tradition of Elvis Presley numbers. And how the ballerina makes her exit in Swan Lake will, I feel confident, be discussed for years wherever codpieces are sold."
Producer: Frederick Zollo, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jon Davison, Jim Abrahams, Hunt Lowry
Director: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams
Screenplay: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Martyn Burke, Jim Abrahams
Art Direction: John Fenner, Michael Lamont
Cinematography: Jack Lowin, Christopher G. Challis
Editing: Bernard Gribble
Music: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Val Kilmer (Nick Rivers), Lucy Gutteridge (Hillary), Christopher Villiers (Nigel), Omar Sharif (Cedric), Peter Cushing (Bookstore Owner),Warren Clarke (Colonel Von Horst), Michael Gough ( Dr. Paul Flammond).
C-91m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford